Sol Spiegelman

Columbia University

December 14, 1914 - January 21, 1983


Election Year: 1965
Scientific Discipline: Medical Genetics, Hematology, and Oncology
Membership Type: Member

Sol Spiegelman was a molecular biologist whose research expanded the understanding of genetics, virology, and the molecular composition of cancer.  He was one of the first scientists to affirm that bacteria are genetically similar to humans, which meant that the results of genetic experiments on bacteria could be applied to humanity as well.  In 1962, Spiegelman developed a technique known as nucleic acid hybridization that permitted the detection of specific DNA and RNA molecules in cells.  This innovative technique laid the foundation for the advancement of recombinant DNA technology.  He also conducted an experiment (later named Spiegelman’s Monster) in which he copied RNA molecules in test tubes by using a catalytic enzyme taken from nucleotides; this became useful for studying various forms of leukemia caused by RNA viruses.  The remainder of Spiegelman’s studies focused primarily on purifying enzymes, synthesizing mutant forms of RNA, and determining how to keep viral RNA from replicating. 

Spiegelman received his bachelor’s degree in mathematics from the City College of New York in 1939.  He went on to earn his Ph.D. from Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri in 1944.  Spiegelman then accepted a professor of microbiology position from the University of Illinois, and he taught there until he became the head of the Institute of Cancer Research at the Columbia College of Physicians and Surgeons in 1969.  After six years, Columbia College honored him by naming him University Professor.  For his contributions to medical science, Spiegelman received the Albert Lasker Medical Research Award in 1974.

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